When I put together my first computer many moons ago, I had a ton of questions. I remember one being, do CPUs come with thermal paste?
At the time, I had no idea. My motto was to be prepared, though. I bought a tube of Arctic Silver as a precautionary measure.
After unboxing retail CPUs, I learned that stock AMD and Intel heat sinks have the thermal paste pre-applied. This makes it easy (and less messy) for most people.
If you are performance-minded, want to use an after-market cooler, or buy an used, open box / non retail CPU, you will need thermal paste.
In the end, I opted to use a massive heat sink with a good, quiet fan and I over-clocked the processor. My tube of Arctic Silver did not go to waste.
How hard is it to remove the paste on a stock cooler?
If the stock cooler is brand new and just unboxed, you will find that the thermal compound is already applied to the cooler.
If you want to replace the paste with a more efficient compound, the process to remove it is pretty easy.
It can be wiped off using isopropyl alcohol and a couple disposable, lint-free cloths. Lint-free is important. You don’t want to leave residual lint on your components. Although I’ve never tried this, I read some people use coffee filters, which are lint-free.
Note: Wear disposable gloves.
The first step is remove the bulk of the material using clean, lint-free cloth. There will still be remnants of material.
Get a little isopropyl alcohol on a clean cloth. Make sure that it is not gushing liquid. Run the cloth across the remaining compound on the heat sink.
The rubbing alcohol works like a solvent to remove the material, and the remnant thermal paste should come off the cooler easily. It may take 2 or 3 takes to get the material off. You may need multiple cloths.
Make sure to get all of it off. It makes no sense to apply a top-rated thermal paste when contaminants from the old material is still on it.
After it is cleaned off, I like to take a dry lint free cloth to the heat sink and rub any remaining rubbing alcohol off.
Now, you are ready to apply a new layer of thermal material.
Arctic Silver makes a solution called ArctiClean.
This is a two-part system. The thermal material remover is first applied, and it emulsifies and removes the material. Then, a surface purifier is used to prepare the surface to accept new compound.
I have had good luck with it, but others think it is useless. They use the rubbing alcohol method.
Do CPUs need thermal paste?
You have to have thermal paste on the CPU. It is important — critical.
The CPU creates heat and requires a heat sink to cool it. Because the CPU’s surface and heat sink’s surface are not flat, these irregularities don’t allow for a 100 percent contact point between the two. Air gaps are created.
The air gaps don’t allow the processor to transfer its heat to the cooler. The processor will overheat and quit working prematurely without thermal material.
The thermal paste fills in those air gaps and removes the surface irregularities. It allows the processor’s heat to pass through to the cooler.
This keeps the processor from overheating.
A tube of thermal material is cheap. It will last a long time — much like the best PSU brands.
I hope this answers the questions, including do CPUs come with thermal paste.